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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is the unforgettable novel of a child’s story growing up in a sleepy, Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it. The novel takes readers through the many emotions of a motherless family contradicting a century’s worth of morals and slaving values. It takes readers through the story of Scout Finch’s childhood and the story of how Jem Finch, her older brother, broke his arm. While Lee effectively summarizes her plot she also alludes to the theme of courage. As explained by her through her character Atticus, “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin… but sometimes you do [win]” (Lee 149). This concept is thoroughly demonstrated demonstrated in To Kill a Mockingbird, and it shows that anyone can demonstrate courage in many forms. Such as Jem and his demonstration of physical courage concerning the mystery of the Radley Place and his protection of Scout, Ms. Maudie and her strength of mental courage regarding her losses, and Atticus and his moral courage respecting his case.
Courage, as mentioned before, can be shown in many ways within the novel. Jem is character who demonstrated courage in To Kill a Mockingbird. Time and time again he is seen interacting with the Radley Place, which he fears greatly, and protecting his little sister, Scout when she is in profound danger. He is first seen interacting with the Radley Place when dared by Dill to touch the side of it, “Jem threw open the gate and sped to the side of the house, slapped it with his palm and ran back past us” (Lee 18). This quotation excellently portrays how Jem puts himself in physical danger to “win”. At this time in the novel there is a great fear surrounding the Radley Place, that it is home to Boo. Boo is depicted as a ghoul-like creature who eats cats in the night, this makes Dill’s dare so much more frightening that it takes a while for Jem to muster up enough courage to succeed and touch the house. Jem once again shows his physical courage when Bob Ewell attacks him and his younger sister Scout, “‘Run, Scout! Run! Run’ Jem Screamed” (Lee 351). This quotation demonstrates how willing Jem is to sacrifice himself physically in order to protect Scout. He purposefully assures that Scout is on the opposite side of him and Bob Ewell in order to maintain her well being. The outcome of this is that he fractures his arm and goes unconscious until being rescued by Boo Radley. Although prevalent, physical courage is not the only form of courage within the novel.
Mental courage is psychological strength during a crisis. Ms. Maudie, throughout the novel, never shows her fear. Whether she must start again due to the violent anomalies of the house fire that targeted her or the merciless preachers of Maycomb. She shows this mainly when the house fire of the Maycomb winter completely burned her house down to cinders, “‘Grieving, child?… except they’d lock me up’” (Lee 97). Although her house, not something anybody can afford to lose at this time, no longer exists due to the recent fire in Maycomb she is confident and only looks at the positives of the ability to create a larger yard. Not many would be as calm, cool, or collected in this situation and would definitely not be glad about it. This greatly demonstrates her ability to contain such mental fortitude during a crisis. She also seems unshaken by the comments of the Maycomb “footwashers” when they verbally attacked her and her plants through bible verses, “‘Thing is, foot-washers think women are a sin by definition’” (Lee 59). Although the quotation does not directly show her confidence during the crisis she does not seem shaken up and fully understands why the “footwashers” are wrong. Mental courage is most likely one of the least common types of courage presented in the novel and has the least meaning.
Moral courage is the courage to stand up for what an individual believes to be right, to stand up for it, despite what the risks and consequences may be. The novel, although made to explain the injury of Jem’s arm, focuses on the case of Tom Robinson and how Atticus puts his reputation and values on the line by taking it on. His biggest strive in moral courage is how he represents Tom Robinson in a court of law and the reasons behind it, ‘“but before I can live with other folks… a person’s conscience’’’ (Lee 140). Atticus knows that he will most likely lose the case yet he follows his prior definition and continues even though he has already been licked. He also knows that most of his county will regard him as a “Nigger-lover” and condescend him. Yet through all of this he still strives to represent Tom Robinson and protect him as much as he can even though it can affect him so severely. Atticus also defines courage to his children and puts it in a way that perfectly represents moral courage, “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin… but sometimes you do [win]” (Lee 149). By presenting this information he details that he perfectly understands the concept of moral courage and strives to apply it everyday in his life. When defined under Mark Twain’s definition of moral courage Atticus fits in perfectly, he is that one in a thousand men who will not back down and will always perfectly represent his true morals.
Among moral courage being important for a proper community to function in philosophical excellence so are physical and mental courage. These themes are well demonstrated in To Kill a Mockingbird, and shows that anyone can demonstrate courage in many forms. Jem shows physical courage when interacting with the Radley Place and protecting his sister. Ms. Maudie Atkinson demonstrates mental courage when her house is burned and she is verbally attacked by the Maycomb “footwashers”. Finally, Atticus perfectly demonstrates moral courage by representing Tom Robinson and defining moral courage. Courage, as demonstrated in To Kill a Mockingbird is important in all civilizations and can be found within every individual in any way as shown by anyone from Jem, a young boy, to Atticus, a learned lawyer with a great reputation.
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